This post was published in my masters’ thesis for the University of Texas School of Journalism.
Beneath the salt of everyday life, there was a bitter taste to my skin. I could feel it on my tongue, intensifying after days of not eating, when the fat burned away and my essence rose to the surface. I was a sour girl. I was an angry girl. I was a girl who lived the opening lines of “Stay Golden” by Au Revoir Simone. “I saw it coming/ I just thought that you should know.”
What I saw coming this time was the inevitable break up of yet another unhealthy relationship. My boyfriend told me he was moving to LA in the middle of a rock concert. He handed me a drink, leaned close so I could hear him through the whining electric guitar and sharp popping of drums, and said he was leaving. The June night pressed into my skull, hot and pulsing, cauterizing the senses. By the time he said he didn’t want anything to change, he wanted to make it work, even over such a long distance, I had cut him away. He was already another ex-boyfriend.
“Stay Golden” is my anthem of forgiveness, fittingly off an album titled Verses of Comfort, Assurance and Salvation. Of all the things that weighed on me, that made my body feel fat and bloated, my latent resentments were the heaviest. I had never learned to forgive, probably because I can never forget. I remember every word, the clothes we were wearing, the books on the bed stand. The picture may fade with time, yet the negative is always there, smudged faces and ghost eyes burned into my brain.
Or perhaps it was just men. I could not forgive men. A man’s rough hands grabbed me and broke my trust long ago, and other men followed, snapping my instincts of worth and preservation, leaving only dry kindling behind. I tried to make my body perfect so a perfect man would love me. I merely succeeded at making my body sick so only sick men could love me.
So it is no surprise that my deepest grudges were with ex-boyfriends and former flings. “A careless word is complicated,” Au Revoir Simone sighs. “An emptiness still leaves a space.”
When I met Au Revoir Simone at SXSW, I had the uneasy feeling of looking in a mirror. They had the same dark hair and bangs, loose tops over skin-tight pants, an air of sweet sorrow even after a successful show. When I asked them about their fans, the singing keyboardists immediately acknowledged the dedicated young girls who grabbed onto their music with such force.
I smiled in recognition. Of course the lovesick band geeks and dark artists embraced Au Revoir Simone. These young women know what it is like to be a sour girl. I can hear the acid lingering in their lyrics. “So don’t feel bad,” they reassure the clumsy man who held a delicate heart. “Realize all your emotion/ And may you find all your relations/ Will keep you free.”
But in “Stay Golden,” Au Revoir Simone shows there is an aftermath to anger. The music is a fall day in Brooklyn, sitting alone at a coffee shop, the terrible memories buffered in a Prozac dream. It is a muted script, a close-up of a girl staring out the window, pale sunshine and poplars reflected on her cheeks, thinking, but not too deep, not so deep that it hurts. The sharp edges and chords of dissonance are removed.
“I’m feeling better every day.” When they sing this line in their soft bird voices, I think of mercy. I think of moving on, of recognizing and making amends. I think of a beautiful view. It is always fresh, always pure, always on the horizon. There is a reason to drift forward. There is something beautiful over the next hill.
“I’m feeling better every day.” The most beautiful lyrics, repeated twice, more melodic than the rest, remind me where I am today. They remind me to turn these patterns of golden light into a new memory. They remind me to forgive.
I do not have to make myself anything. I let myself be happy, I let myself be kind, I let myself be at peace. And I am feeling better. Every single day.